From Custom to Small-Batch - North St. Bags, then & now.

It’s been nearly 5 years since I made the move to Portland to start my business, and we just wrapped up our best year ever.  

North St. Bags started in 2009 with little more than a sewing machine found on craigslist, a few small rolls of Cordura and the simple desire to make some bags.  I’ve learned a lot about manufacturing since my days in that basement studio.  What started as a tiny custom bag shop has grown into a mini production line, outputting 60-80 units per week (at last count) and shipping all over the world.



The basement studio where owner / designer Curtis Williams started North St. Bags


This achievement has come mostly from learning-by-doing (with a fair share of re-doing), with a little help along the way.  I’ve had the great fortune and privilege to connect with other amazing entrepreneurs such as Sara Tunstall, - founder of Spooltown, designer /manufacturers Leah & Avery Bloom of Make it Good, and Mark Dwight - owner of Rickshaw Bagworks in San Francisco.

I’ve also been enrolled in a class through the Small Business Development Center here in Portland.  This has been a fantastic resource for helping to develop the business side of North St. Bags.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is building or starting a small business in the Portland area.

One of the biggest building blocks of the North St. Bags production line is a method called Lean Manufacturing (aka the Toyota Production System).  These practices have helped us to eliminate waste such as extra inventory, excess movement, and over-production, as well as streamline production in order to save time and money.  We build sub-assemblies (shoulder straps, liners, belts, etc.)  in small batches to save time, but we still run bags through assembly one at a time to ensure quality, and reduce the over-all lead time.  This means we can turn out stock bags in 3-5 days (start to finish) and custom bags in just 7-10 days.

Lean practices are useful in other areas of the business as well.  Interested in Lean?  Check out this article by friend & mentor Kjell van Zoen, owner of Plywerk here in Portland.

Stay tuned to our blog over the next few weeks for more posts on our manufacturing process, materials and business practices.




founder / designer, North St Bags

Curtis Williams
Curtis Williams


1 Response

Will House
Will House

January 09, 2014

Great to hear of the use of lean manufacturing principles!

Easier to incorporate in to a smaller business at the earlier stages of development than trying to place them in a well established massive firm!

Great methods to work by!

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